Before the housing market crashed during the Great Recession, homeownership was considered a no-brainer.
People were told to buy a home as soon as they could because it was the financial route to the middle-class American dream. Renting was a waste of money, was the conventional wisdom.
Now some people who would have jumped at buying a home years ago are weighing their options. Attitudes about homeownership have shifted, according to "How Housing Matters: The Housing Crisis Continues to Loom Large in the Experiences and Attitudes of the American Public," by the MacArthur Foundation.
"The American people believe that the country's housing environment is changing," the report noted. "While most non-owners aspire to own a home someday, homeownership is not viewed as the vehicle to building wealth that it once was, and the public believes that renting has grown in appeal while owning has declined."
When asked, compared with 20 or 30 years ago, how likely it is for families today to build equity and wealth through homeownership, two-thirds of respondents to a poll accompanying the report said it's less likely than in the past. And that sentiment was pretty consistent along all income and age groups.
Further, an overwhelming majority felt that renters could be just as financially successful as homeowners at achieving the American dream.
It's a good thing that renting isn't seen as being a financial failure. Here's a question I received recently during my weekly online chat from someone doing exactly what should be done when faced with the rent-versus-buy decision.
The reader wrote: "I've been living in a shoebox apartment, less than 400 square feet, for more than three years. While I enjoy many aspects of this apartment, I'm starting to feel cramped. If I decide to move to a larger place, I'd need to pay at least a few hundred dollars a month more. That may be worth it for me. What I'm stuck with now, though, is the question of rent versus buy. Part of me (perhaps the emotional part) feels like buying makes sense for investment, stability, etc. The logical part of my brain keeps reminding me of the incredible expenses of buying and the reality that I probably wouldn't develop much equity in a property unless it's a long-term investment. I'm not sure I'd necessarily want to live forever in the type of place I could afford today. I know I'm overthinking this and my overthinking is leading to inertia. What do you think?"